After attending a Seaside play, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” which was a stylized fun-poke at the dark Sherlock Holmes novel, I was enthralled to see how small live playhouses survive. These theater houses are scattered from one end of the country to the next, from tiny towns to mega metropolises.
The challenge seems even greater for the Seaside company, The Rep. To pull people from the beach and tourist hotspots to a small darkened theater with handmade scenery is nothing short of a phenomena. These young individuals simply defy the odds.
I found myself a few days later in the small Grayton Beach office of Lisa Connell, managing director of The Rep. The theater is well over 10 years old and Lisa came on board about three years ago after a career in marketing.
After talking to others, I found out that she does one of the most difficult jobs of all. The one that any arts organization activist loathes to do — find the money.
But she loves the aspect of promotion, meeting sponsors, fundraising events, and going after the mysterious world of “grant” subsidies. Not at all shy, Lisa likes to form alliances with the larger community supporters such as Silver Sands, Grand Boulevard, Sunburst Beach Vacations, Pizitz Home and Cottage, and others. She tells me they are one of the more important anchors of the theater’s success. Without the sponsors and individual supporters, the whole system would collapse.
The overall executive director is a chap by the name of Brook Stetler.
He is also a director-actor and his efforts are a labor of love as I watched his company players and backstage team work their magic in the Baskervilles play.
Most believe the Seaside Theatre is a perk given by the Seaside business consortium. Nope! The theater group has to pay rent like the other merchants and that’s why they are extremely important to our South Walton arts’ programs.
From visiting our local schools to performing small musicals, the members carry on the “live” theater tradtion. If one looks at the overall team, they all have theatrical backgrounds and some are in college. But even locals can be found on the stage as my friend Bruce Collier is often found expounding his theatrical lines.
Unlike most small troupes that fold up after a season of activities, the Seaside stage never goes dark. The regularly paid staff and actors are always expanding their outreach, building their resumes for the future and bringing in new aspiring locals to the stage.
“We are a team, like a chain, each link keeps the other part together,” said Lisa.
As for me, I love the live performance. I was lucky enough to be a part of the stage singers at the Memphis Opera. I will never forget those marvelous days, and as I watched these young members act their hearts out, I wanted to be back on the stage under lights.
If you are interested in the performing arts or supportive of the theatre, call Lisa at 850-231-0733. You’ll love her witty personality.
Fair winds to ye matey.
Chick Huettel is a long-time Walton County resident, writer and artist. He is a member of a number of local organizations including the Emerald Coast Archeological Society.